Many people are familiar with the concept of a religious annulment, granted by a church or clergy, which undoes a marriage as if the marriage had never existed. A religious annulment, however, does not affect the legal status of a marriage. The court process of an annulment ends a marriage legally, like a divorce.
The difference between a divorce and a legal annulment is that, while a divorce process divides the divorcing couple’s assets and deals with family consequences of the divorce, an annulment wipes the slate clean in the eyes of the law. No division of assets takes place. Not unlike a religious annulment, it dissolves a marriage as if the spouses had never been married, while a conventional divorce will remain as part of the spouses’ legal records.
In South Carolina, the grounds for getting your marriage annulled are limited under the law (South Carolina Code Ann. § 20-7-420(6)). The state will grant a legal annulment if you can prove:
- One or both spouses are minors (younger than 18 in South Carolina). Under certain circumstances, those under 18 may marry with the consent of a parent or guardian.
- One spouse coerced the other to get married.
- The marriage was the result of fraud, lies, or concealment of something essential to the marriage.
- One spouse has a living husband or wife at the time of marriage.
- The spouses are more closely related than first cousins.
- One spouse is mentally disabled to the point of incapacity to consent to the marriage.
- The spouses never lived together.
If you wish to pursue an annulment of your marriage in South Carolina you must file a “Complaint for Annulment” in the circuit family court for the county where your spouse lives. You must have lived in SC for at least a year. You will be called the plaintiff, and your spouse the defendant. Your court’s website may have a sample complaint for annulment that you can use. The complaint form asks you to provide basic information about yourself, your spouse, your children, your marriage, and your reason for seeking an annulment. After you file your complaint with the court, it must be “served” to your spouse, meaning that an adult other than yourself must hand-deliver it to your spouse. It’s possible to serve your spouse even if you can’t find them or they live out of state; ask your court how.
Your circuit family court will hold a hearing where you’ll have to prove the legal grounds for your annulment. You will need to gather evidence to prove the validity of the complaint. This is where you will be wise to seek advice from an experienced family law attorney. A hearing will be scheduled. If the judge believes you’ve proven your case, the judge will grant your annulment.
In South Carolina, when a marriage is annulled, the judge can still decide issues like custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division. Any children of your annulled marriage remain legitimate as long at least one parent entered into the marriage in “good faith” (not realizing the marriage could be invalid).
The seasoned family law and divorce lawyers at the McGrath Law Firm, founded by attorney Peter McGrath, will walk you through every step of the challenging divorce process to address your concerns and achieve your goals as efficiently as possible. From spousal support, child support, fault, and equitable division of property and debt to valuations, pre-nuptial agreements, annulments, and restraining orders, the experienced attorneys at McGrath Law Firm have a successful track record in all aspects of divorce law. Call us to schedule your consultation at (800) 283-1380.